What is creativity and why does it matter?

The head of education at a Scottish ‘sculpture park’ wants every child to experience the boundless creativity it promotes

Kate Latham

What is creativity and why does it matter?

Most of us don’t have cause to ponder the above question on a daily basis. If we think about it in passing, we might imagine it relates to being “good at drawing” or “starring in the school play”. I contend that creativity goes to the core of a person’s ability to be successful in any profession. It is a vital part of the development of a young person’s “skills for learning, life and work”, as Scotland’s Curriculum for Excellence aims to do.

If we take a moment to really think about the attributes that underlie creativity, its importance in developing these skills becomes clear. Art, drama, music, design – these in themselves do not represent creativity; they are tools for accessing creativity and for growing in confidence as a creative being.

Creativity itself means taking an interest in the world around you, enquiring, thinking flexibly, exploring possibilities – the spark that ignites an original thought. Through these processes we can learn to be thorough investigators, to articulate complex ideas, defend a point of view or to innovate and be enterprising. In short, we develop critical-thinking skills that are becoming more vital in the workplace with each day that passes.

More than ever before, the world of work is uncertain. Very few “jobs for life” are available to young people leaving school in 2019. It has been suggested that up to 65 per cent of children entering primary school today will end up working in completely new jobs that don’t yet exist.  Self-employment and employment in entrepreneurial start-ups is on the rise. It is vital that their education equips learners to be creative, flexible and resilient enough to survive and thrive in this fast-paced world.

Creativity across the curriculum is a wonderful concept. I have seen many brilliant examples in practice, from an understanding of symmetry coming from dance, to junk materials used to make a kinetic sculpture proving a physics theory. However – and it’s a big however – we cannot avoid the fact that expressive arts disciplines are being squeezed in schools. While it is true that creativity can be used to improve young people’s grasp of many subjects and drastically improve their employability, the development of creativity takes time.

The hard truth is that time spent designing a new product or working on a fine-art portfolio is often not seen to be as valuable as study for a chemistry exam. Our vital critical-thinking skills come from exploring, trying things out, taking risks, learning from mistakes and growing in confidence. These are all things that happen when young people take part in the expressive arts where, crucially, there are no wrong answers. The development of creativity can be slow and hard to quantify so it is harder to defend its value.

We do young people – all young people, not just the “arty” ones – a great disservice if we place them in a culture in which the testing regime is prioritised over exploration. We need to make time for creativity because it is here that we build not only the curators, designers and filmmakers of the future, but also the most imaginative scientists, successful entrepreneurs and dynamic politicians.

Kate Latham is head of learning and community engagement at the Jupiter Artland Foundation near Edinburgh. Its aim is for every child in Scotland to experience Jupiter Artland (pictured), and it recently launched the ORBIT outreach project and youth council

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Kate Latham

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